Thursday, September 29, 2011

Connecting with readers...

Many times I'm on a blog or a writer's webpage and am amazed that I can't easily find out how to get in touch with them. Some have forms where you can leave a message, but to be honest I'm put off by them. Why can't I just send them an email? I don't understand why authors put a barrier between themselves and others. So today I'm going to mention some tips to make sure you are easy to reach.
  • You may notice a series of buttons at the top of this post. They are "quick links" to all the important places that are relevant for me: The Ridan Publishing site, a link to send me email, the "first page" of my blog, twitter, facebook, my inperson meetup group, and a link so they can sign up for my newsletter. These "button bars" ideally should show up at the top and bottom of every post you make. That way if someone is reading your post and like it and want to reach you, they are just one click away. This is something I should have been doing (even I am neglectful of good practices sometime) so you'll see them from now on.

  • Contact page - Every blog should have a "contact page" If you've used up all your tabs then make your "About me" also your contact page. When someone arrives at the page then don't present them with a form, instead give them a table of ways to reach you (see my contact page for an example)

  • List all your platforms. Think about all the places you interact do you have a goodreads group? Then you should add that as well. What about a forum? Better get a link for that one as well.

  • Do you have a link to your contact information as a signature line when you post to someone else's blog? No? If you are out there interacting and people like what you're saying why are you making it difficult for them to find you?
For those who would like to make a button bar similar to the one I'm using I'll give you a helping hand.
  • Getting buttons to line up is really quite easy if you use a table. I'll show you how in a minute

  • Sometimes making the graphics can be a challenge - So I'll let you use mine. If you want to make ones of your own make the "colored portion" 41 x 41 and then but a 1 pixel white border around them so that they are 43 x 43 and then all your buttons will be the same size.

  • You'll need to know how to add .html code to your site or your blog. I use blogger and as I type there are two tabs "compose" that shows how the post will look and "edit html" which shows the "code" that is a combination of commands (enclosed by <> symbols) and the text.
Let's look at the code to make the button bars. NOTE: If I put the code in "exactly" then you'd see the "results rather than the code" so in the example below I'm going to use square brackets ([ ]) as a replacement for the pointy brackets (< >). If you copy/paste this code be sure to do a global search and replace first.

[p][table align="left" border="0"][tbody][tr][td][a href="" target="_blank"][img src="" border="0" /][/a][/td][td][a href="" target="_blank"][img src="" border="0" /][/a][/td][td][a href="" target="_blank"][img src="" border="0" /][/a][/td][td][a href="" target="_blank"][img src="" border="0" /][/a][/td][td][a href="" target="_blank"][img src="" border="0" /][/a][/td][/tr][/tbody][/table][/p][br/][br/]

Don't worry if this looks like complete nonsense, we'll be going through it step by step.
  • The first thing to realize about .html is most commands have a start and stop. The stop is designated by and the stop by . These will always appear in pairs.

  • In some cases a command may have a start and stop in a single command and that is shown by
Let's look at the various commands used in this snippet.
  • p - is used to denote paragraph begin/end
  • table - is used to indicate the start/end of a table
  • tbody - is used to indicate the body of a table
  • tr - is used to denote the start/end of a table's row
  • td - is used to denote the start/end of a table's cells
  • a href - is used to indicate the URL of a link (the start/end shows what will be hyperlinked)
  • img src - is used to indicate a graphic - and only one is needed
  • mailto: - is used to indicate that an email should be started rather than a webpage
  • br - is used to inicate a new line - and only one is needed
Note that in html codes nest, such that a table with two rows that have words one, two, and three in separate cells on the first row and four, five, and six in the second row would look something like this (but would need < replaced for [ and > replaced for >:


In our html example I'm using bitly urls (so that I can track them) but it makes it harder to understand - You can highlight any of the urls and paste them into a browser to see what they go to but I'll also explain them here:
  • - email graphic
  • - blogger graphic
  • - twitter graphic
  • - facebook graphic
  • - newsletter graphic
You can use these same URL's so that you don't have to worry about posting your own images or uploading them to your blog.

What you will also need are URL's for where you want each button to go to - why you don't have to use you should as it will track results for your.

Okay, now we can explain the code snippet
  • We start out with codes to: start a paragraph [p], start a table that is left aligned and has no board [table], start the body of the table, start a row, start a cell
  • Then we use an [a href] command to indicate where to send an email to - you can replace the address with your email. The target="a_blank" indicates whether a new window should be used or not. This does not always work for emails but it will for webpages.
  • Then we have the email graphic, with no border [img src=]
  • then we close the hyperlink [/a], then the cell [/td], then start a new cell [td]
  • Then we have a link for the URL for my blog, followed by the blogger graphic, then closing the hyperlink, cell, and starting a new cell
  • Then we have a link for the URL for my twitter account, followed by the twitter graphic, then closing the hyperlink, cell and starting a new cell
  • Then we have a link for the URL for my facebook account, followed by the facebook graphic, then closing the hyperlink, cell and starting a new cell
  • Then we have a link for the URL for to sign up for my newsletter (I'll explain how to do newsletters in the future), followed by the newsletter graphic, then closing the hyperlink, cell
  • Finally we close the row, the table body, the table, and the pararaph
  • Then we add a few blank lines so that the "text" of our post will show up below the buttons
And that's it. What I suggest is that you make this once by using notepad and save the file. Then each time you start a blog do the following:
  • Switch to Edit HTML tab
  • Paste your code (top of post)
  • Skip down a line and type some text like: xxx
  • Paste your code (bottom of post)
  • Switch to compose mode
And there you have it. Having links right at people's finger tips makes it easy for them to get in touch with you. If you have any questions or problems be sure to let me know.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Branding #4...taglines

Today I'd like to talk about taglines. A tagline is used to provide a very quick, snappy summation of your books or series. The secret to a tagline is making it short and sweet. The shorter the better. Personally I think a tagline should never exceed 10 words and my preferred number is 4 words.

I know what you're thinking...that's not enough space to do anything. Well it is if you think about things properly. Let's look at a tagline that I recently came up with for my husband's Riyria Revelation Series. To understand the tagline let's tell you a bit about the series. Here is some marketing copy for the first book that I wrote:

They killed the king. They pinned it on two men. They chose poorly.

There's no ancient evil to defeat, no destined orphan, just two guys in the wrong place at the wrong time...Royce Melborn, a cynical thief, and ex-mercenary Hadrian Blackwater make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles until they become the unwitting scapegoats in a plot to murder the king. Caught, imprisoned, and sentenced to death they have only one way out. And so begins this epic tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.

Okay so now I need to try and describe the books so I'll describe it with the following keywords:
  • Genre: classic medieval fantasy
  • Main character(s): cynical thief & mercenary
  • Theme: Heroes rise to the occasion
  • Writing style: Light, fast-paced, fun
The tag line I eventually came up was:

Unlikely Heroes...Classic Adventure

These 4 little words actually sum up the series quite nicely. Let me go though the thought process.
  • Notice that I didn't use fantasy (even though this is the genre) the reason is because fantasy has many connotations (fantasy football, phone sex, erotica) so instead I used the words "Heroes" and "Adventure" which both conjure the concept of medieval fantasy

  • I wanted to point out that the book has more than one character and that character wasn't what you usually find (kings, knights, wizards, orphans) hence "unlikely heroes".

  • I wanted to position the book as "a classic" because many reviews have noted that this book reminds them of the fantasy of their youth that made them fall in love with the genre in the first place.
So how should you go about this...
  • First, start listing words that describe your book - each one can't be more than 2 words.
  • Try to determine a word or words that actually cover multiple ideas at once for instance "hero" has the notion of "good" "virtuous" "chivalrous" "winning" "strong"
  • Don't try to make a sentence...try to have two ideas and play one against another.
One you have a tagline where do you use it?
  • Any advertisement: web banner, print, goodreads, facebook, google
  • Any swag material (bookmarks, key rings, pens, coffee mugs, tshirts)
  • Emails to potential reviewers
  • Book descriptions on forums
  • Book descriptions when publishing your books
The best taglines sometimes take a long time to come up with. I suggest you make a few and then just let some time pass while you "noodle" each one - and one will usually bubble to the top.

Feel free to share your taglines here as you develop them for your own books.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Guest Post: Sage advice from Julie Ann Dawson

As regular readers of this post know, I spend some time over at Kindle Board's Writer's Cafe (a great place of very knowledgeable supportive people btw). One of the people who "tells it like it is" is Julie, who like me, runs a small publishing company (Bards and Sages). She had a post the other day that I really liked so I asked her permission to guest blog it and she here it is.


There have been a lot of threads lately about sales dropping, and many of them are pointing the finger at Amazon. It isn’t Amazon’s fault. Some of this may apply to you.

What you’ve done wrong.
You have depended too much on Amazon to find customers for you. Too many authors are 100% dependent on Amazon to do the heavy lifting. Your sales depend on Amazon algorithms in order for Amazon’s customers to find you, instead of you going out and finding your own customers.

How you can fix it.
Go find your own target market. Visit sites that cater to the type of people who would be interested in your book and start promoting there. Take advantage of services like Project Wonderful that allow you to place low-cost, highly targeted ads on sites frequented by the exact type of reader you are looking for. Use Facebook ads to build your author fan page using the demographic data they have available.

What you’ve done wrong.
You have kept all your eggs in one basket for too long. Your fixation on Amazon sales rank has led you to put all your efforts into generating sales at Amazon at the expense of other outlets. I’ve always said I would rather sell 50 books a month each on 20 different sites than sell 1,000 books on just Amazon. Spreading out your sales volume reduces your risk, so when sales slow in one location your entire business doesn’t crumble.

How you can fix it.
Get your books up on other sites. Smashwords makes it easy to get your book into wider distribution. Seek out smaller niche retailers that cater to your specific genre. Get your book available in print using a service like Createspace or directly with LSI so that you have print distribution through a variety of retailers outside on Amazon. Then people who learn about your book can shop and the stores they are comfortable with, instead of having to shop where you tell them to.

What you’ve done wrong.
99 cents doesn’t mean anything anymore. The race to the bottom has finally bottomed out. When most books were listed on Amazon at $9.99, selling a book for 99 cents seemed like a great deal to consumers who were not yet aware of the difference between indie books and traditionally published books. But with the surge in 99 cent books and the increased reader awareness that 99 cents = self-published, the only people buying 99 cent books these days are value shoppers that buy everything at 99 cents.

How you can fix it.
Raising your price may cause a temporary drop in sales, but will increase your overall profit. Particularly with genre fiction, the price has historically been between $4.99-$7.99. Pricing your book at the same level as your small press peers in the industry creates the impression that you are in the mainstream of your genre.

What you’ve done wrong.
You have spent too much time commiserating with other writers and not enough time looking for readers. Your blog, website, and sales pitches are all geared toward “indie writers” and use jargon the average reader doesn’t know about or care about. You spend too much time promoting “indie books” and not enough time selling YOUR books to readers, readers who could care less whether or not a book is indie or trad.

How you can fix it.
Take DOWN the bright neon sign that screams “self-published author” and just be an “author.” Readers don’t care or have any desire to actively support self-publishers. They just want good books. Your fixation on being indie means that the only people who will find your books are people who actively search for indies, which are usually other indies looking for places to promote. Rewire your presentation to think about what is going to interest the average readers without shoving in their faces your self-published status.

What you’ve done wrong.
You have spent too much time blaming “the industry” for your problems. It is Amazon’s fault your sales have slipped. The trads are up to no good. Nobody will give you a chance. Yada yada yada. While you may not realize it, your daily, public whining is seem by casual readers, who are put off by it.

How you can fix it.
There is an old saying in sales that goes “Fake it until you make it.” That doesn’t mean to lie. What it means is to stop placing blame and engaging in public baiting and start focusing on the positive in your business. Customers want to buy from people they believe are successful. The appearance of success gives a certain confidence to consumers that you know what you are doing and are producing quality books. Stop referring to yourself as an “unknown author,” which simply reinforces the idea that you are nobody important. Stop referring to people in the traditional industry as “the enemy” and refer to them as “peers.”

What you’ve done wrong.
Stop thinking “Outside the box” and look what is actually in the box first. You jump around from marketing gimmick to marketing gimmick without a clear plan or goal, hoping to reproduce someone else’s success without understanding all of the nuances and factors that went into that success. Further, people are so busy recreating the wheel that they have forgotten what the wheel looks like.

How you can fix it.
Any marketing plan takes time. It can take years to build a strong fan base. Like the cliché goes, it is a marathon, not a sprint. Think small and then slowly expand so that you not only gain readers, but retain them for the long haul. A strong marketing plan requires a consistent message and repetition. Instead of jumping from place to place, focus your efforts on two or three sites to start that are frequented by the type of reader you want, and then use the existing tools to read those people on a regular basis. Most marketing professionals will tell you that the average consumer needs to see something seven times before they even remember it, let alone act on it. So your goal is to focus on repeating your message to a regular audience in order to build your base, and then expand out from there.

Julie makes a good point about an over dependence on the Amazon algortihms. Many authors (mine included) have benefited from getting some good numbers and having Amazon recommend their books. This is not a substitute for other marketing efforts, and it's getting harder and harder to make the big lists. The number of sales that used to get you on the top 100 won't get you in the top 300 these days - there are just many more books out there and the $0.99 ones that get some legs do take up a lot of the top spots. She's giving us a good kick in the pants to do good solid marketing elsewhere and I agree.

I also love that she gives specific recommendations to how to fix it. We don't agree on all points (I'm less likely to use paid advertising) but I love that she's not just pointing at the problem but giving good real world solutions for how to solve it.

I also love that she is another voice trying to get people out of the $0.99 ghetto. I agree that it creates an impression that you are mainstream in the genre it is the same strategy I've used with Ridan authors.

I also love that she encourages a thought out plan and giving it time to work. Reactionary thinking just ties you up in knots - yes you need to be flexible and adjust but don't chase too many things in too many directions.

I want to thank Julie for her great words of advice and allowing me to share it here. You can find out more about her in the short bio below.

Julie Ann Dawson earned a degree in English, Liberal Arts from Rowan University in 1993. While there, she also studied marketing, public relations, and sociology. Upon graduation, she worked as a Public Relations Assistant for the City of Bridgeton’s Department of Recreation and Public Affairs, writing press releases, creating marketing literature, and assisting with organizing special events. She honed her sales and marketing skills while working for a South Jersey Kirby vacuum distributor, first as a sales representative and then as a team leader and finally as a recruiter. While with Kirby, her sales efforts won five paid vacations, including trips to Hawaii and Montreal.

Her work has appeared in a variety of print and digital media, including such diverse publications as the New Jersey Review of Literature, Lucidity, Black Bough, Poetry Magazine, Gareth Blackmore’s Unusual Tales, Demonground, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and others. In 2002 she started her own publishing company, Bards and Sages. The company has gone from having two titles to over one hundred titles between their print and digital products.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Books and libraries...a few things to keep in mind

A few days ago Michael's Theft of Swords got a starred review from Library Journal and even better was picked as the scifi/fantasy "Debut of the month". Congrats Michael!

When I posted this on kindle boards some responses reminded me of some things that some indie authors might not be aware of so I thought I would bring them up here. Call it some "tips" about libraries.

  • can be used to see which libraries are carrying your books. Libraries that participate in the program have their book orders show up on this site. So put in your ISBN and you can see if your book is being carried anywhere.

  • Recommendations: Whenever you see a post, or get a piece of fan mail that says "too bad your book isn't in the library" or some thing to that effect...write back and tell them to make a request. Libraries will often order books when a patron makes the recommendation - they have a library card in that municipality so their request has more weight.

  • Recommend it yourself: I know an indie author who sold about 400 books and 350 of them were to libraries. This was a main goal of his so he would spend a bit of each day sending off an email to libraries. He compiled a huge list of libraries and kept track of those who carried the books by watching

  • Reviews...Most libraries do make their selections based off of the big reviews. These include Library Journal, BookList, Romantic Times, Publisher's Weekly, School Library Journal). As an indie author you are not "forbidden" from these lists but it can be pretty daunting as there is only so many slots and your chances of making them are not all that great. If you make a go of it - make sure of a few things: a) You have your own publishing company as the imprint (not CreateSpace, iUniverse, Lulu, or any other organization which will immediately brand you "self-pubbed". b) set a "publication date" far enough out in advance to meet their deadlines - usually most of these places want to get a ARC 3-4 months prior to release so that means keeping your book off the market for a while so that your live date does not coincide with the date they received the book. c) Follow their submission requirements carefully.

  • Usually you can make some inroads into "local libraries" through recommendations of card carrying fans or your own emails - if you do get selected...go down to the library and introduce yourself in person. Talk to a few of the librarians telling them about your book and that they carry it. Ask if you could leave some free bookmarks for people to pickup at the checkout counter. Ask to give them a free copy to read in the hopes they'll like it and recommend to people who come in. You can even find out if you can do a "in library event" where you talk about your book, or being a writer, or getting published. Libraries love to have events to get people to come in and sometimes they don't have enough resources to pull from.

  • If you have bookmarks...or business one of them in a library book of a similar genre books. Choose the "hot title" and someone might stumble upon your book when reading another.

  • Don't rely on the publisher alone...My hope is that Michael's traditionally published books (Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, Heir of Novron) will be in many libraries once they are released. But...I'm not going to count on it. I'm going to use worldcat to see where they "get in" then do my own promotion to other libraries to increase the exposure.
Just a few things to keep in mind with regards to libraries and using them effectively. I'd love to hear other ideas as well.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Branding #3...product vs. author brand

I think part of the reason that authors get a bit stumped when it comes to branding is they don't realize the difference between product branding and author branding and only consider one or the other. I'll propose you have to think about both.

Product Brand
Most people understand branding a product - Campbell's Soup, Coca-Cola. When developing the brand for a product you have a few things:
  • Consistency of design
  • Consistency of tag line/messaging
  • Ability for easy classification
  • Ability for easy recognition
One of the panelists at dragoncon kept mentioning that big, traditional publishers don't do author branding, they only understand product branding and I'd have to agree with this. A lot of the marketing activities are centered around activities such as:
  • Cover design (product)
  • Title of book (product)
  • Tag lines (product)
These are all important activities that need to be done, and done well. If you are self-published you'll have to take over this side of things, but if you are published through another organization they'll take care of this for you.

Author Brand
Is what I've been focusing on in my other posts: Branding where to begin & Branding Part 2 The Basics and we'll have more on this important topic but for now I just want people to realize that there is a distinction between the two so let's get back to product branding.

Everyone will tell you that a good cover is a key to success and I couldn't agree more. I'll actually do a lot more on covers but today I want to focus on one thing in particular...series. If you are responsible for the covers (self-publishing) the cover is going to be your MOST important branding signal and if they are in a series you have to spend more time planning them out.

I'm going to pick on A.P. Stevens for just a minute. I bumped into him on facebook (which reminds me...please "like me on facebook" as I need to get to 25 likes to add a username ( In any case he was speaking about his books and a promotion he did and I asked him for a link. here are A.P.'s first two books in his "White Wolf Series":

I gave A.P. a ton of advice about these covers, and I won't repeat it all here except to illustrate one particular point which is I would never think that these two book are book 1 and book 2 of a series.

Messing up the "in a series" branding is not limited to self-published titles. I publish, through Ridan, a great set of books by Leslie Ann Moore. Originally the first two books were published through a company called Avari Press. Here are their covers:

Again, I would never think these are the same two books. Even though the publisher used the same fonts for the titles and author's name the graphics are so different that I can't make any connection. Moreover, the first book looks like some kind of young adult book and the second looks like a Gothic vampire novel.

Now let's look at what Ridan did when we re-released this title.

Now these, not surprisingly are reflecting a single product brand. My litmus test on branding is that if a table was filled with 25 stacks of books could you tell which ones went together. I think people would pretty easily pick these out as "together". They would struggle a bit with the ones from Avari, but because both books start with Griffin and the fonts are the same they might eventually figure it out. In the case of AP's books. I'm not sure I could ever connect the two.

We'll be looking more at covers in future posts but for now these are the points I want you to walk away with:
  • Your author branding is all about "you" - who you are, what you believe in
  • Your product brand is separate and you need to present consistent visual cues to the brand
  • If you have a series of books you have to apply additional care to make sure that your cover design can be coordinated across all the books.
More to come....

Friday, September 16, 2011

Author's Business Cards...Get Them...Use them

If you don't have business cards for yourself you really should. You can get free cards from VistaPrint (they charge you just for the shipping and put their promotional text on the back), but I recommend some example pricing from them:
  • $9.55 - 1,000 cards - 4 color front no back
  • $11.00 - 1,000 cards - 4 color front and back
  • $33.50 - 5,000 cards - 4 color front no back
  • $38.70 - 5,000 cards - 4 color front and back
As you can see there is virtually no difference between doing two sided so splurge. Here are some of my business card recommendations:
  • Have a picture of your book(s) - This is as high of a priority as your name
  • Use a QR code - if you don't know what that is see my blog post about them
  • Use your publishers logo - even if you've made your own publishing company putting a logo on the card will give you some added credibility (people won't know it's your own company)
  • Don't give out your phone number - as a writer you need to control when/how you are interrupted
  • Make it easy for them to identify your genre. Your book's graphic should do this for you but if someone (your or your publisher) dropped the ball on this then make sure they know your genre
  • Have a tagline that differentiates your book from others
  • Include your twitter, blog, and email - these are all acceptable ways to reach you.
To illustrate good business card design, let's look at Michael's cards:


Let's analyze what we have here starting with the back:
  • Michael has three books so putting all of them on the back makes the most sense. If he had two, I'd still use the back but put the QR code next to them. With one, I might be inclined to put the cover on the front and the QR code alone on the back

  • From the covers there is no mistaking these books from being in the fantasy genre. But we can augment this with a simple tagline which we did. I'll explain this particular tagline in my next post on branding.

  • I included the URL and the twitter just to round out the back so that it looks like a little standalone ad.
Now the front
  • Notice both the QR code and his current publisher's logo
  • The three pieces of information to reach him
  • A good, well balanced design (feel free to copy it for your own cards)
Once you have the cards here's the important point...get them out there. Here's some tips:
  • Every time you pay a bill at a restaurant include your card - and tip well!!
  • Drop them in every "free lunch" drawing you find - someone goes through those cards and just might go - hey this looks interesting. (After all how many times do they meet an author)
  • See someone on a computer train or bus reading a novel in your genre talk to them for a few seconds and leave your card with them
  • If you have any casual conversation where you happen to mention that you write don't leave without passing out a card
  • Are you a speaker at a panel of a conference, tell people to come up afterward and get your card
  • Going out to dinner with a friend and a bunch of their friends you don't know - given them a card when they ask you "what do you do"
For such a small expense, you really need to get yourself business cards. Make them attractive, and use them often. Besides, on those days when you're feeling kinda blue take out a card and remind yourself what you are in this for.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Branding - Part 2 - The basics

So, based on some emails from my last post on branding (Branding...where to begin) as well as comments in that post it seems that people struggle with "branding" so let's take a step back.

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a "name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers."

The important part here is distinct. Let's break that down a bit...

Adjective: distinct

  1. (often followed by 'from') not alike; different in nature or quality
  2. Easy to perceive; especially clearly outlined
  3. Constituting a separate entity or part
  4. Recognizable; marked
  5. Clearly or sharply defined to the mind
Starting out this way shows a few things that really resonate with me.

Just like snowflakes no two people are alike. We are all different from one another. Some conventional wisdom says "align yourself with something people already know". You've heard people pitch their books this way:
  • It's like Mad Max meets Jaws
  • A combination of Aliens, Driving Ms Daisy and Benji.
  • and so on.
While I understand the need to "classify" yourself I think it's better to stand out to spend your limited words on letting people know what about you is different. If we try to brand ourselves by following the brands of others we are "followers" not "leaders.

Easy to perceive; especially clearly outlined
Have you ever watched a television commercial and said to yourself .... I have no idea what they were selling (was it the jeans of the hot guy, the car, his glasses?) This is an example of a message working against what you are attempting. Does it meet the first requirement (unique) probably - but to me this is marketing gone astray. It's done so some big ad exec can put it in their portfolio - look how cutting edge I was...but ultimately did was it effective. Which means did people embrace the product or the idea...nope because they had no idea what you were talking about.

Recognizable; marked's a nice concept. You want to be easy to recognize. You want people to immediately - go - Hey that's from Robin or Michael or whoever. Once you start to become "known" then people will gravitate to you when they see (recognize you).

Clearly or sharply defined in your mind.
This is the final goal...(not sales btw - those are results not goals - thank you Simon Sinek). Your brand is going to give people an impression about you (and later your work). Your goal is to show them what you are.

Some people shudder at the concept of branding...."I don't want to brand I just want to be me" they wail. Well guess're way ahead of the game because that's what branding is ... showing the world who you are and what you're about.

Branding should be effortless. Because all you have to do is be yourself. Since you are here reading this blog we can use me as an example. If I were to think of words that I "hope" people would think about me they would be.

  • Intelligent
  • Passionate
  • Supportive
Did I do market research to determine if these words "resonate with people"? Then carefully craft this blog to showcase this? Nope. I'm simply doing what I do and trying to be self-aware as to my strengths.

But then again - I may be completely delusional. (I've been accused of this in the past). So tell me some of your impressions of me (good and bad) as it will help me to know if I'm on the right track or not and can be used as a baseline for as we go on to the next post on branding.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Branding...where to begin

So, at BookExpo America, Dragoncon, and other writer's events I've been to lately all the experts are saying the same thing...branding...branding...branding. But I think many people don't know what means or where to start.

If you want to understand branding - you should be listening to Simon Sinek. (Go to the video page of this blog to see some great things from him. He's really got it right.

Simon points out that many companies or people decide their brand by looking at the marketplace and seeing what is hot or what people are looking for and then they build their brand around that to maximize income...WRONG....buzzer goes off thank you for playing.

Simon's key is that you don't make a brand and try to attract people to it. You find what you believe in, expose your own beliefs, find what gets you excited and what you are passionate about and tell others...this then IS your brand. It's not something you create it is something that you are. Then...and here's the magic...the people you attract will already be aligned with you and you don't need to convince them to do business with you...they'll want to because they belief what you believe.

Sounds simple right? Yes it is but trust me, I've been in business for 30+ years and I can't tell you how many people don't understand this very simple concept. I've worked for many companies that have paid thousands of dollars to bring in consultants to help them create a brand. I've had to pass by posters of "mission statements" that all sound the same...basically a pumped up variation of:

"To be the preeminent supplier of xyz by providing exceptional customer service".


This is not a mission. A mission is something that drives you from your toes to your head. What gets you excited about getting out of bed everyday. It's what you enjoy doing more than anything else and devote your whole heart and soul to.

Anyone who had read this blog can see pretty quickly what my passion is:

"To help authors navigate the changes in publishing such that they can quit their day jobs and do what they want to do most ... write for a living and provide inspiration and entertainment for the people who love reading their creations"'s assignment....think long and hard what gets you fired up and make this the cornerstone of your brand. I'll be posting more on brand building over the next few posts.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bell Bridge Books: Another small press who "gets its"

So I'm fresh back from Dragoncon and exhausted as it is quite an event but I wanted to share with you all one of the discoveries I found while there.

Bell Bridge Books (Belle Books) - is a small press that sponsored the Writer's Conference portion of Dragoncon. I sat in on several panels that members of their organization were on and I was so excited to see another small press that "gets" what is going on with the changes in publishing and is doing well.

I wasn't "consciously" aware of Bell Bridge when I went to Dragoncon but when I got back to my hotel room I "looked them up" and then the pieces clicked into place. They are one of the presses that did fabulously well with the Sunshine Deals and as a result of that got several of their titles in the top 100 and even the top 10. Also according to their website they have three books that reached #1 (an accomplishment for any book and especially well done as there are few small press offerings that can say this.

I recently saw on Kindle boards that one of my fellow KB'ers, John Hartness, signed a book deal with them. I'm very excited for both parties as I think this will be a very good fit and based on the little bit John told me, Bell Bridge is willing to think outside the box and are not threatened by a hybrid publishing approach.

So...I know that Ridan is not not open to submissions, but for those that think a small press might be the right approach for you - I would recommend Bell Bridge as someone to put on your list.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bios continued - the short form

Well, I'm back and utterly exhausted. Between the Dragoncon convention(Congrats to Ridan author Nathan Lowell who won a Parsec Award), our research trip to Death Valley (yes it was 124 degrees!!) and our extended stay in California (thanks to Hurricane Irene) we are back.

I'm utterly swamped with all manner of things as getting Internet was virtually impossible in the wilds of California and at the convention. But I need to finish up my blog on bios so here goes....

In my last post on the subject yours working for you? I covered the long form where you want to forgo the standard where you live, grew up, went to college, or how many pets you have. But now let's talk about the short form. Most notably your twitter bio which gives you 20 more characters than a tweet (160 - but this also includes spaces).

What you say here will really depend on where you are in your career and, like all good bios should change as your success as a writer, and your platform evolves.

It's now September and the "indie" versions of Michael's books are officially out of print and the life of a big-six author is about to start. If he puts out some of his future books through self-publishing then he'll be switching to a true hybrid author but for now the only books that can be ordered are the Orbit books so he is "just" big-six - so guess what - I just updated his twitter bio.

@author_sullivan: Orbit Author: Theft of Swords (Nov) ● Rise of Empire (Dec) ● Heir of Novron (Jan) ● No ancient evils, just unlikely heroes and classic fantasy adventure.

Let's dissect this a bit so you know why I made the choices I did.
  • In most of publishing there isn't a lot of publisher loyalty - in other words most readers won't care if you are published by Simon & Schuster or Penguin - in most cases they won't even know. But this is not the case for genre fiction. In particular, romance, science fiction, and fantasy readers will watch the release schedules of a few prominent presses (Harlequin, Elora's cave for romance/erotica, and Tor, Baen, Orbit, DAW for fantasy/science fiction. So I made sure to make the fact that Michael writes for Orbit to be part of his new brand - it will help him get found when people search on Orbit. So if you are in a genre where there is publisher brand - use it to your advantage.

  • I think it is essential that if you are an author, you need to have your title in your bio. The problem comes when you have multiple titles. I suggest putting your biggest seller and next upcoming release. But in Michael's case his big seller is no longer available so I opted to play up the fact that all three books are coming out soon and in consecutive months.

  • It is also important to get your genre in your bio - if you work in multiple genres try to get as many in as you can.

  • The last thing I did is put in something to differentiate Michael's fantasy from other fantasy. Coming up with something short and concise takes time and practice the things I wanted to get across is a departure from a standard troupe (ancient evils, orphans destined for greatness) if I would have had room I would have added the orphans (and have had it in the past but didn't want to lose the space for all three titles since they are upcoming. I also got in that his characters (Royce and Hadrian) are unlikely heroes - in just two words you get a pretty good idea that they are your standard "good guy" knights or kings

  • Notice that I use bullets to break things up. This is a great space saving technique to get a bunch of things down in a small amount of space. For my own bio - I do a lot....Public speaker, publicist for Riyria Revelations, Founder of Ridan Publishing, educating people about changes in the industry. Using bullets is a great way to get all that down efficiently.
One more thing I want to point out since we are working the profile page of twitter. You can get a bit more "branding space" by using the location field. Most people use this to type their city/state but there is no rule that says you have to. Here are some examples:

Michael J. Sullivan (fantasy author): Where unlikely heroes dwell
Robin Sullivan (me): Publishing's cutting edge

So this is what I do, feel free to share your own ideas as well. I try to be "factual" and use this to get many branding keywords as possible out there but I'm interested to hear what techniques other use.